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Where's the Party? Why Thanksgiving is Fading From the American Classroom and What You Can Do About It

26 AHMP: Where’s the Party? Why Thanksgiving is Fading From the American Classroom and What You Can Do About It

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Did your child have a Halloween party this year? Of course, right? Well, don’t be so sure there will be a feast, party, or even a discussion prior to Thanksgiving at the same school this year. And my friend, this is the year that you need to take action to instill and reinforce the shared common identity that we have as Americans in younger generations.

What you say? That can’t be possible? There should be a Thanksgiving feast. Won’t there be lessons about William Bradford, the Pilgrims, and the Wampanog? Younger children will be making Pilgrim hats or mantles or perhaps fashioning jewelry as was often worn by the Wampanog. Won’t they? Well, have a talk with your child, his or her teacher, as well as other parents at the school, and you may be in for a rude awakening. After a bit of research, I have come to the conclusion that the celebration of Thanksgiving in our schools is undergoing a fundamental transformation. As with past celebrations of Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays, Thanksgiving is becoming a time that is more focused on vacations and sales than an opportunity to educate our young citizens about their common heritage and identity as Americans. It is part of the de-emphasis, shunning, and even demonization of our national identity as Americans.  Educators often argue that there is no common identity for Americans. No “We the People” only a disparate group of individuals with different ethnic, cultural, and racial backgrounds. Do you know what your child is being taught? Is everything connected to the predominantly white European settlers who established the colonies, as well as our Founding Fathers, portrayed in a derogatory light? If this is the case, as it is in so many schools, then you as a parent, grandparent, or simply as a proud American need to push back and teach children about their shared heritage.

When I was in elementary school, there were separate holidays to celebrate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Before each holiday, we spent time in class learning about what each of those great men contributed to our country. Whether it was coloring pictures in kindergarten, writing stories in fifth grade, or composing an essay in high school, I continued to learn more each year about why each man was exceptional, and how each of them contributed to our exceptional country. Slowly, over time, that pattern has changed. Most schools now celebrate “Presidents’ Day.” Prior to the holiday there may be instruction about Washington and Lincoln, all of the presidents, the office itself, or nothing at all. The lesson that is connected to the holiday, if there is one, differs between teachers, schools, and school districts. The school district which my children attend incorporates the holiday into a vacation period the district refers to as “Presidents’ Recess”, but most parents refer to as “ski week.” In my opinion, the holiday has little meaning, and there is a minimal amount of time spent educating students about the history that underlies it.

Could it be that the same type of desecration is happening to Thanksgiving? Is our country being stripped of all the holidays that make it unique? Thanksgiving without mention of the Pilgrims is something akin to the Fourth of July without fireworks. But wait as I recall last Fourth of July I heard about fireworks as laden with toxic chemicals and bad for the environment. It is only a matter of time before liberals link it to global warming and demand that all national commemorations of the signing of the Declaration of Independence cease and desist from further damaging the environment!  There is no doubt in my mind that  PC crowd, in an all-in-all assault on our national identity, is trying to throw every shred of our common identity out the window all at once.

The question first occurred to me several years ago when I was helping plan my youngest child’s third grade Halloween party.  We were discussing the parties that are scheduled throughout the school year, and the room mother mentioned that there would be no Thanksgiving party. I thought that was odd because my two older children had feasts and parties all the way through 6th grade. When my son was in kindergarten the children dressed as Pilgrims and Native Americans, sat on the floor feasting until their bellies were full, and learned about William Bradford, Chief Massasoit, and Myles Standish.  I have served as an elementary school room parent more than a dozen times. Up until that discussion before the Halloween party, there had never been a question in my mind as to whether there would be a celebration in the classroom which I had been involved with.  I had been repeatedly astounded that someone was willing to cook a turkey or prepare some other time consuming dish just a day or two before cooking again in her (yes, most of the time it was a mom) home. Although my then third grade daughter had a party in kindergarten and first grade, there has not been a Thanksgiving party in the classroom since that time. last year, she was in the sixth grade. She, and her fellow students, prepared sack lunches for the homeless. A noble effort to be sure, however there was no discussion or instruction about the traditional celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States, nor was it mentioned why Thanksgiving is a federal holiday at all. So much for the Common Core’s integration of U.S. History into Language Arts reading assignments. Don’t you agree? My older children have consistently reported that there was little, if any, celebration or even mention of Thanksgiving during their middle or high school years. Only an occasional food drive to help the homeless or a local soup kitchen. Again, a lesson well taught to children about being charitable, but nothing about their shared culture as Americans.

When the question of whether Thanksgiving would be celebrated in the public schools first occurred to me, I began to wonder how it was celebrated in other districts. I queried my contacts and connections on various social media outlets as to what their children would experience. I was curious not only about what was happening, but whether anyone else had noticed a change in the instruction that students received about the holiday.  I was surprised by several things that I learned. Yes, there are still schools which held traditional Thanksgiving celebrations, but they are few and far between. Many schools were on vacation for the entire Thanksgiving week. Some schools scheduled Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday as inclement weather days, other schools furloughed students, and still others scheduled the time off in much the same manner as our local school district’s President’s Recess. The majority of responses had no additional comments and provided only the requested information. Aside from those residents of the State of Massachusetts (where the holiday still seemed to be celebrated whole heartedly), I was surprised at how many people responded that there would be no party, and perhaps no discussion of Thanksgiving at all. If there was to be some type of meal or feast, it would primarily occur in kindergarten or first grade classes. One respondent indicated that the feast had been transformed into a gathering of forest animals rather than meal shared by the Pilgrims and Native Americans. However, there were also several threads of anger that ran through the responses. Several Native Descendants were angered by the Pilgrim’s behavior toward the Native Americans (e.g., stealing wheat, etc.), and one individual referred to the celebratory meal as a “purported welfare dinner.” Others were angered not only about changes in Thanksgiving celebrations, but also how Christmas and other the winter holidays are now dealt with by the public schools. One respondent stated that the local school district prohibits teachers from mentioning holidays other than President’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day because all other holidays may be connected to a religion or culture that is not shared by all the students. It seems that in a tacit effort to be politically correct, public schools may be increasingly reluctant to discuss Thanksgiving at all. What is happening this year in your child’s school regarding the celebration of Thanksgiving. Please email me at and tell me all about it.

Let’s consider some of the negative comments and publicity, which is no doubt driven by the underlying progressive ideology that is now rampant in schools and the media, that demonize the European settlers and degrade the Thanksgiving holiday as a whole. In 1970, the United American Indians of New England (UAINE) declared Thanksgiving to be a day of mourning. There are increasing cries objecting to elementary school children dressing in costume for Thanksgiving. One particularly poignant example was a 2008 conflict between kindergarten parents in Claremont, Ca. For more than 40 years, children from two different elementary schools had taken turns feasting at one another’s school while dressing in costume. A small group of parents objected to the tradition, and as is often the case, the school district initially reacted in knee-jerk fashion in order to appease those parents. It is as if we have become so fearful as a society about upsetting anyone, that we must all behave in a bland milk toast manner so as to not upset the apple cart.  Eventually, the school district decided the tradition could continue, so long as the costumes were eliminated. There are endless websites devoted to disputing various aspects of the Thanksgiving narrative including whether the Pilgrims actually wore black clothing, which year the meal took place, the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, and the culture of the Wampanoag people themselves.

What does this all mean? While it is important to recognize that I have no way of knowing if the responses I received are representative of the practices at public schools as a whole. I suspect, however, that what you find is happening in your local public school will not be terribly different. It is enough information to suggest that you should take the time to inquire exactly what is, or is not, being taught to your children. Will there be any discussion of the significance of Thanksgiving? Will the students be made aware of the historical events that the holiday commemorates? How will those events be described? How will the Pilgrims be characterized? How will the Thanksgiving meal be portrayed? Will historical events be ignored in favor of an ahistorical forest animal feast, or will the meal be ignored all together. Is it possible that Thanksgiving may be written off as just another myth associated with the founding of our country?

Why, you might ask, is it important for our school children to learn about Thanksgiving at all? After all, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the impending Common Core, have all heavily shifted instructional minutes away from the study of US History and onto the subjects of math and language arts. From my perspective, Thanksgiving is important because it is the holiday celebrated during the school year which is most directly tied to the subject of American History. That subject has received a decreasing amount of instructional time with each passing school year. Not only are our children not being taught important facts about the history of their country, but those facts are not being reinforced across the time of their elementary and secondary education. When will they come to understand the struggles of our Forefathers and Founders to establish this nation, if they do not learn about them in school?

Another question is whether the Thanksgiving meal will be yet another American tradition that is dissected, demeaned, devalued, and discarded? Why does Thanksgiving seem to be under attack? It appears to me that the debunking and deconstruction of American historical events, figures, and traditions unravels the sense of identity and national unity once shared by most Americans. America is an exceptional nation. Its citizens enjoy individual liberties and freedoms not enjoyed elsewhere in the world. However, those (including the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, leading political leaders on the Left, media pundits, and academics) who believe that America is no different from any other country, or should be ashamed for our history, and they insist on picking apart our leaders, our common history, and our traditions. For example, although not connected to Thanksgiving, I have read articles questioning whether Abraham Lincoln actually wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope. While I profess that I have not researched the subject. However, the speech is memorable nonetheless. Short. Succinct. Brilliant. Given at just the right moment in our nation’s history. Isn’t that what we should focus on? Isn’t that what is important? Is the speech any less significant because it might have been written somewhere other than on the back of an envelope? Could it be that the true underlying reason for such an attack is to demean the character of one of our greatest presidents? Picking apart the character of our leaders, or events such as the Thanksgiving meal, undermines the pride we feel for our country and diminishes our sense of a common heritage. Interestingly, what is under attack are the actions of Pilgrims and the Thanksgiving meal itself, but not the reason that two presidents proclaimed national days of thanksgiving. How would those who are unhappy with the commemoration of a feast between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people react if they were aware of what Washington and Lincoln wrote in their proclamations?

The United States officially celebrated its first Thanksgiving in 1789 after a proclamation by George Washington. Washington ordered a “day of public thanksgiving” to acknowledge God’s favors upon the nation including the peaceful establishment of a government for the citizens’ safety and happiness, as well as “for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.” As we learned in the last podcast, thanks to Sarah Josepha Halle, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation instituting an annual day of thanksgiving in this country. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast, I would encourage you to do so. You will learn that Mrs. Hale’s reason for seeking a federal Thanksgiving holiday was actually not focused on the Pilgrims, but a celebration of national unity. In his proclamation, Lincoln praised God for blessings bestowed upon the nation even amidst the Civil War. He asked that the American people “implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”. And in reality, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is really all about? It is not about whether or not the Pilgrims wore black. It is not what year the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people shared a meal. It is the thanks that we should have that the Wampanoag gave aid to the Pilgrims. It is the thanks we share that our Founding Fathers sought to create a nation like none other. It is the thanks we share as Americans that our nation has survived a civil war, global conflicts, societal change and natural disasters for more than 200 years. It is coming together to give thanks for our past (imperfections and all), as well for what we share with our family, our community, and our fellow citizens.

What can you do to help your children learn about and understand this important American tradition? Let me help you in your quest. There is a plethora of Thanksgiving related material on my website: That would include an instructional video, documents including the Mayflower Compact, excerpts from Edward Winslow’s journal, and presidential proclamations. I also have two different Thanksgiving related bingo games, as well as Thanksgiving gratitude cards to be used before your own feast. You find the bingo games on both of my websites: and

Now that you have resources to assist you, let’s talk about what to discuss with your children. There is quite a bit of information to cover, so don’t try to tackle it all in one sitting. Consider the average amount of time your child spends learning about a subject in school. It may be as little as 15 minutes or as much as an hour. Plan to spend a slightly shorter amount of time with each of your lessons. These are intended not only to be educational experiences, but positive ones as well. If you are losing his or her attention, then it’s time to end the session. Younger children can stay focused a bit longer if there is an additional task at hand, such a something to color or create. Older children can benefit from the inclusion of videos and other types of instructional media.

Begin by talking with them about the origins of Thanksgiving.  Discuss who the Pilgrims were, and what their lives were like in those first years after settling in a new land. Focus on facts and try to flesh out some of the people in historical context.  Talk about the Mayflower Compact. It is a simple but straightforward compact about the type of communal society the Pilgrims sought to create. Is it also an opportunity to discuss the type of problems the Pilgrims experienced because of that decision, and why they quickly transformed the society into one where each family sought to be self-supporting as much as possible. Talk about the Wampanoag people, why they were reluctant to interact with the Pilgrims, and how their existence changed after settlements began to spring up across their homeland. It is not always a pretty picture, but America would not exist if not for this resettlement. This is not a small point, and a point that should not be overlooked as so often happen in today’s politically correct revision of the settlement of the North American continent. It is important to connect the generosity of those Native Americans with the American tradition of giving to those in need in times of trouble. While we must remember that America would be a different place if those settlers had not sought a new beginning in the “New World,” we owe a debt of thanks to those who helped the settlers when they might have perished if not for the assistance of the indigenous population.

Be sure to discuss the presidential proclamations of Washington and Lincoln, as well as other proclamations of thanksgiving that have been discussed in my last two podcast. These are often ignored, and in particular you can count on the fact that the public schools will not mention why these men thought it befitting to thank God for a variety of reasons.

Until next time, this is Dr. Susan Rempel wishing Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! Visit my website with more than 500 pages of documents products, and information designed to motivate the modern patriot.